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Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010

Growing Milwaukee Through the Arts

UWM’s Peck School connects students, professionals

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Art is the best means human beings have found to face, understand, become and transcend themselves.It’s a cliché to note the large amount of art produced in Milwaukee, much of it original, made from scratch to reflect and address our human, national and global situations and to rethink the communicative possibilities and applications of the disciplines.There’s much concern about our city’s economic future:What can Milwaukee offer the world that will help sustain our region?Research in freshwater management seems promising. Might the city also take itself seriously as a regional, even national, laboratory for the arts?

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” answers Wade Hobgood, dean of the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee. Now in his third year here, he’s looking for structures and opportunities to help Milwaukee and Wisconsin shape a new self-image in which the arts play a major role.

“We want to hold hands with anyone who shares that vision,” Hobgood says.

He pointed to the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee, among others, and noted that the Milwaukee 7 initiative of the Greater Milwaukee Committee calls cultural innovation a priority for economic growth in the region.

“Great engineers have backgrounds in music,” Hobgood notes. “Great salesmen have theater training.Research shows that theater students are better read, more inclusive, good at improvisation—skills that can’t be developed by studying math.We are figuring out ways to form collaborations between our students and students in other fields, so they all develop all the skill sets.

“The university’s mission is to enable every student to graduate with skills in creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship; that’s the heart of our training programs,” he adds.“Our students focus not only on their craft, but on new ways it can be put to use in the community.”

“We are at all the tables, looking for ways to make life better for both art and non-art organizations,” says Ellen Friebert Schupper, Peck’s director of marketing and community relations. “But more than that, we are committed to the development of our students, the artists of the future. Our roles are to support, lead and feed the pipeline.”

Student, Community Collaboration

The Peck School of the Arts includes five departments plus the Inova art gallery, and has spread from the main campus to the Kenilworth center on Milwaukee’s East Side. It’s the largest art school in the region and the only comprehensive arts program in Wisconsin. Nearly 150 theater, dance, film and music performances and visual art exhibits are offered to the public annually.

Collaboration is key. A stellar dance faculty creates important works with Wild Space, Milwaukee Ballet, Danceworks, Theatre Gigante, Your Mother Dances and Ko-Thi, and connects students with these companies.The Theatre Department mentored Youngblood Theatre into existence and teamed with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre to provide students with major roles in a professional production.Music and theater faculty and students created a delightful musical documentary on a slice of Wisconsin music industry history last year.This year Joseph Hanreddy, former artistic director of the Milwaukee Rep, teams with the city’s favorite theater designer, Rick Graham, in a theater fellowship program.They’ll host weekly meetings with students and local professionals.

Members of the music faculty perform with the Milwaukee Symphony and the Peck School’s Chamber Music Milwaukee. The school’s “Unruly Music” series offers extreme contemporary music at Vogel Hall.UWM’s Fine Arts Quartet will celebrate its 65th season with eight free concerts for the town, and lecturer Martin Jack Rosenblum has developed an innovative program for studying rock ’n’ roll and American vernacular music. The Film Department sponsors the LGBT Film Festival and other screenings, and its “docUWM” lets students make documentary films for community nonprofits.Students also work with the Riverside/Pabst/Turner Hall group to document visits to Milwaukee by professional bands for use on music websites and in promotional materials.

The Art & Design Department’s research institute houses projects that use the arts as tools in non-art community projects.For example, students created a DVD on post-surgical recovery with instructions from doctors and therapists regarding what to do at home. Peck School students are the actors, writers, designers, filmmakers and technicians. The UWM nursing school measured outcomes.Another project involved released prisoners.The department also presented an exhilarating, three-story exhibit of experimental visual art, media technology, music and performance by students last spring.It was packed with excited young people.

Art is always changing in response to circumstances, and we need its visionary powers most when things turn dire. The loss of art classes in lower education is a tragedy because the artist in each of us is only developed through exercise. The Peck School’s wide-ranging effort to weave the arts more fully into the fabric of daily community life, while training committed young artists to respond to the needs of the times, steers our city toward a better future for all.